This entry is about our March 2007 vacation to Puerto Morelos, MX, a quest for a family trip to
Mexico on the Yucatan coast. It’s there but one needs to go back to the Mayan era for an uplifting experience.
About three months ago, my wife said “Let’s go somewhere for spring vacation.” So I started looking. My criteria were:
- Someplace different
- Someplace a little authentic
- Someplace kid-friendly, and would appeal to OUR kids
- Someplace that is not overwhelmed by vacationers
- Someplace that doesn’t take a large chunk of time to get to and return from
So, as I said, I started looking. No place in the US appealed to me greatly, most failing #1, #2 and #4. So, to make a long story short, I ended up with a place in Puerto Morelos, Mexico – a small fishing town about 30 minutes south of Cancun, on what is called the “Mayan Riviera.” The Mayan Riviera is a long stretch of Carribean coast that stretches form Cancun down to an area surrounding Tulum, an old Mayan ceremonial site. While technically this is part of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, there is a huge amount of foreign money invested. It is almost a US territory that just happens to be in Mexico. There are many indications of this but the most pronounced, I think, is that all the tourist areas are staffed by people who speak perfect “American”, all prices are in dollars, and all signs are in English. Even Puerto Rico is more authentic.
We have visited this area several times before in the last fifteen years and really enjoyed it. However, we did not want to be holed up in a Miami Beach All-inclusive game reserve. So I tried to find an “off-the-beaten-track” area. I thought I had found it in Puerto Morelos. When we got there several things became clear:
- Most of the town has turned to tourism. And why not? When you can make 400 pesos a day fishing versus the same for giving a couple tours or driving a taxi up and down the main highway. There are still several fishing boats that go out daily, and are tied up at night, but they seem also to serve as eco-tourism vessels. Even though, the fish is prevalent and very good here.
- Almost everyone a tourist would meet speaks pretty good “American”. Yes, we did make friends with a taxi driver – Hector – who took us to the barrios in Playa del Carmen, where many speak little English. But very few tourists will see that world. Both my wife and I speak some Spanish but have lost the ear for it; we both wanted to practice it while here. And occasionally we could. But in reality, struggling to form a phrase in Spanish to a person fluent in English – with a slight accent (lived in Colorado maybe?) – is just patronizing.
- There is a huge amount of construction all up and down the coast as Mexicans and foreigners buy up land and put small hotels or massive houses on the lots. The international hotels have already saturated the coast – though one can only see the “Mayan Arch” of each entrance as an indication. There’s a lot of rubble also as old building are torn down and pushed to the side. There seem to be a lot of half-completed buildings also.
- The native population is exploding here as people come to the area from other mexican states for the jobs and easy money. According to our friend, Hector, Playa is now over 250,000 people – a huge increase from the town we last passed through maybe 10 years ago. Most locals use small buses called “Colletivos” to get up and down the coast. At anywhere from 4 to 18 pesos versus $15 (150 pesos) for a taxi, these are a deal. We used them for about half our travels. The downside is, during the busy time (when the hotels staff changes), they are packed so several may pass before one has enough space. This is daunting when you have two young kids. And they are on the Latin America schedule system which as one person put it is “Maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, but soon.”
- Big city things are happening. For instance Cancun, always big, is a pretty major drug center as tourists come in to buy and use. The federal police – the “Federales” – frequently set up checkpoints to catch suspected traffickers.
- Puerto is not particularly kid friendly. The beach is great but most of the tourists are retired. There are a number of kid-friendly places up and down the major highway, including several ecology parks, a crocodile zoo, etc. We went to Xcaret one day and for almost $500 (entrance, food, swimming-with-the-dolphins), the kids had a great time.
- There is still A LOT of pre-tourist Yucatan to explore. We drove to Ik-Balam (“Black Jaguar” in Maya), only uncovered and restored in 1986. I was stunned by the sophistication of a relatively minor town in the Mayan hierarchy. I’ve seen, and was awed by, Tulum and Chi-chen-itzu but Ik-Balam was not an important Mayan city. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to build these huge temples without any mechanization; maybe the population had tens of thousands of hours to kill every year to erect huge temples; maybe aliens helped. I found this fascinating, the highlight of my trip. The kids were bored, though. In the words of my daughter, who decided not to climb the 100+ steps up the royal temple: “It’s really hot and just a bunch of old buildings.”
- For those wanting to visit, take the Toll Road to it. So many people told us this, that we decided to take the old interior road back to save the 200 peso toll. Yikes! After slowly threading our way through numerous towns, each with a series of speed bumps to slow traffic, we ended up north of Cancun and then had to weave through industrial Cancun. That evening one friend said: “You would have paid a 500 pesos toll.” Yes, I think I would have.
All in all we had a good trip. Puerto Morelos is as close to a different, authentic tourist place as one will find along the Mayan Riviera. If you go to the interior, or hang out in the barrios you WILL get authentic but it won’t be a vacation the kids will appreciate.